Can truck drivers use hands-free devices in Ohio?

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Distracted drivers kill around 6,000 people per year, and commercial drivers make up a large percentage of those involved in devastating vehicular accidents. Laws are in place that make hand­held devices (such as cell phones), and any distracting and potentially dangerous behaviors that can be performed on those devices illegal. However, hands­-free devices, such as bluetooth technology, are currently legal. Nevertheless, reports show that hands­-free devices are just as distracting as their hand­held counterparts.

Being a commercial driver, be it transporting goods across the country or ensuring that a bus full of passengers reaches their destination safely, is a difficult profession. Most commercial vehicles weigh several tons and are difficult to maneuver. There are a number of skills and responsibilities required that not everyone possesses or are capable of handling, which is evidenced by the fact that every year, nearly half a million road accidents involve commercial trucks. Driving a massive commercial truck for often long distances is strenuous, and requires high levels of concentration in order to insure that everyone sharing the road remains safe. A single distraction can be a matter of life or death.

Commercial Vehicles Are Highly Regulated

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has many regulations in place to ensure that commercial drivers meet the criteria to be successful at their jobs and that they are able to perform their duties safely, without endangering the other vehicles with which they share the road. People interested in receiving a commercial drivers license must first medically qualify, have a respectable drivers record, and pass written tests. They also have to go through a learner’s permit period and pass a skills test.

Drivers Can’t Use Handheld Devices…

Beyond these initial regulations, the FMCSA also has rules in place that regulate any potential distractions that drivers might face while on the road.These rules focus largely on which devices commercial drivers can use while behind the wheel. Cell phones and other handheld devices are prohibited. Reaching for a phone, taking one hand off the wheel in order to hold a phone, and anything that requires pushing more than one button on a device (such as dialing a phone number) is prohibited, and is punishable by fines up to 11,000 dollars for employers, and can also result in a commercial driver losing their license.

In the state of Ohio, distracted driving (driving with a handheld device) by anyone, not just commercial drivers, is banned as a secondary offense (meaning that police officers have to have a reason to stop the driver, such as odd traffic behavior, before being able to pull them over). For those under the age of eighteen, it is a primary offense. As of February 2015, legislation is being set into action to make distracted driving a primary offense for everyone. Anyone seen using a hand­held device while driving can be pulled over and are subject to ticketing and fines.

…But Hands-Free Devices Are Still Allowed

Though hands-free devices, such as bluetooths or headsets, are currently legal to use while driving commercial vehicles, it is widely known that they are not conducive to safe driving conditions. In fact, many companies, such as Greyhound, have taken preemptive steps and have banned their usage amongst their employees. A commercial driver using a hands­-free device at one of these companies could be considered an employer liability.

These self­-imposed bans are prudent. In 2014, a man who had been driving a commercial waste truck through Rosedale, Maryland, received a call on his hands-­free device mere seconds before he crashed into a freight train. That collision caused the train, which was carrying explosive chemicals, to derail. An extraordinarily devastating collision, the crash involved a train derailment and a chemical explosion, which lead to millions of dollars worth of property damage and also caused many people to suffer grievous injuries.

Can We Multitask While Driving?

NPR did an investigation on multi­tasking while driving and determined that performing activities such as talking on the phone (whether it be on a handheld OR a hands­-free device) can be just as dangerous as driving while under the influence of alcohol. In fact, according to a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study that NPR cited, close to 80% of traffic collisions in general, not just those caused by commercial drivers, are due to drivers not paying proper attention to the road. Driving in general (let alone a commercial vehicle) requires a lot of concentration. Maintaining a conversation also requires a great deal of concentration, which detracts from the focus required for staying safe while driving.

In fact, multi­tasking in general is essentially a myth. It is nearly impossible to legitimately perform two tasks simultaneously. The only way to do two different tasks at once (such as driving a commercial vehicle while having a conversation on a hands­-free device) would be to be either doing a task that is so conditioned that you do not have to think in order to perform it, or if the tasks you are doing can be processed by two different parts of the brain. Clearly, neither condition applies to driving a commercial vehicle. Performing this task requires constant vigilance­­ it should not be considered an automatic practice. Also, driving a commercial vehicle also requires the ability to pay attention to road signs and other signals would conflict with having a conversation using a hands­-free device, as they both require the language center of the brain.

Though it is currently legal for the drivers of commercial vehicles to use hands-free devices, it is widely considered to be a dangerous practice. Multi­tasking is a leading cause of vehicular accidents, and many people are calling for a move towards preventing this perilous behavior. In fact, it’s on the National Transportation Safety Board’s “Most Wanted List” for 2015.

Have You Been Injured By A Distracted Driver?

If so, we may be able to help. Contact us today and schedule your free case evaluation and consultation with our experienced personal injury and car accident attorneys. We’ll make sure you understand your options and help you choose the right path for you. If you’ve been injured by a distracted driver, you may be entitled to compensation of your medical expenses, property damage, and more. The law limits the amount of time in which you may file a claim, so act quickly!

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